Attracting Construction’s Next Generation: The Dilemma

It’s no secret that the construction industry is facing a severe skills shortage in years to come. The older generation is ageing out and the equivalent number of younger professionals is not following. The industry’s finding it tough as it is, but how will things fare in another 10 years?

Here are some startling facts worth mulling over:

• There are approximately 1 million NEETS (not in employment, education or training) in the UK aged 16-24
• 182, 000 construction jobs to be filled by 2018
• Only 7, 280 completed a construction apprenticeship in 2013*

Whilst there’s much conversation over what has caused this skills shortage, from an increased number of ‘soft skill’ degrees to a lack of education on construction opportunities, it is the solution to the problem the industry must focus on now.

Though we do not intend to solve the problem here and now (it will take more than a 500 word blog post!) it is interesting to consider what the industry can do to educated young people on the opportunities that construction can offer.

Working in Partnership

Constructing Excellence South West is leading the way in Bristol to encourage more young people to consider a career in construction. In the marketing for a recent event they held, they announced some hard facts:

“Over the next 5 years construction in the South West is set to grow by 3.6{5bd4dbeb095e6afd0553a3eb2804eeb537458bfdee92d71a335bb02b85762530}, higher than the national average and also further stretches our limited pool of construction workers in the region.

“[We have] some of the best further and higher education facilities in the country that offer construction and built environment qualifications however, numbers are dwindling going into these courses… schools only know what they know and it’s not a lot. Whilst we all work really hard to help schools to discover the technical and professional built environment, the perception of our great industry remains our biggest challenge in the race for new talent.”

The organisation is acting to bring together senior construction professionals together with heads of education institutions to get the conversation going in earnest and make sure that teenagers are aware of the options out there.

Construction's Next Generation

Be Proactive

Alongside initiatives such as these, there’s nothing to stop companies taking things in to their own hands. Here are some suggestions that could help you engage with younger people and inform them on the opportunities that your industry offers:

1. Run apprenticeship and graduate schemes
Does your company offer a scheme to help those coming out of their A-Levels and degrees get in to construction? Coming out of the education structure is very daunting so offering a training structure is a good way of taking on young people and training them up in, what they will feel is, a secure environment. There are financial structures in place to help business take on younger people, so take a look at what local and national schemes can offer and see what help is out there – your chamber of commerce is a good starting place as well as looking at government funded schemes.

2. Appeal to the younger generation and advertise TO them
Clichéd images of construction involve dangerous situations, unhealthy lifestyles and excruciatingly labour-intensive work. Whilst there’s no doubt that some job roles are physically demanding, the industry has come a long, long way since the days that Robert Tressell wrote about and people are well looked after. Appeal to the younger generation by showing them progression routes, the variety of positions available, the sociable aspects and the chance to be part of something that will stand the test of time – make construction sexy! It doesn’t all have to be heavy bricks and grubby hard hats.

Once you’ve got some kind of scheme in place to take on younger recruits, be where they are which, for better or worse, we know tends to be online. Take advantage of the advertising opportunities that Facebook and other social media sites offer. You can very accurately target people by age range, location and interests so you can promote your opportunities to those who are likely to have expressed some kind of interest in construction or related work online.

3. Offer career advice in schools / universities and keep in touch
Take a leaf out of Constructing Excellence South West’s book and GO to the schools where the next generation of construction workers are. Ask if you can present during an assembly or a lesson and explain what the construction industry can offer. There are lots of students who are not prone to further education but if they are not aware of the other options, it is all too easy for them to be herded in that direction and spend three years doing something they are not interested in for the fear of being left out or not knowing what else they can do.

Once you’ve made a connection, take their details and keep in touch. Set up email campaigns that regularly land in their inbox and remind them that an alternative route to university exists. They may not join the industry this year but if and when they decide they, you want to make sure they get in touch with you.

4. Run free events and showcase what pathways the construction industry could offer to young people
Using the word “FREE” in any marketing campaign is a sure-fire way of grabbing people’s attention. Running free events and inviting youngsters, parents, education professionals etc could put you in front of potential employees and even investors who can help spread the message.

You could deliver seminars on different aspects of your business, invite industry experts to deliver a key note speech, offer advice on how to break in to construction etc. It’s all about raising awareness and being proactive will significantly increase your chances of recruiting the right young people to help move your business forward.

5. Make this part of your marketing plan
Let’s be honest, the construction industry is not always the best at putting itself out there and taking marketing seriously (though there are of course exceptions to this). But if you really want to invest in the future and ensure you have a tier of younger employees who will take on the roles the older generation currently inhabit, you have to be thinking about it now. Putting money into marketing toward younger people in ways such as those suggested above will significantly increase your chances of reaching out and encouraging school leavers and graduates to consider construction as a career choice for them. People don’t know what they don’t know, so make it part of your job to educate people on what’s available!

The construction industry has an immeasurable impact on society from providing housing, to office spaces to building beautiful architecture and tourist attractions (to name but a few!) For every £1 invested in construction, there’s a return of £6 back in to the economy. That is an astonishing figure and one that should be celebrated; by being part of construction you are having a (lasting) impact on the landscape of society. Be proud of this fact and seek out the talent who will carry this on.

*Figures as per the cross-party parliamentarians’ inquiry February 2014

Construction's Next Generation